By MARIAN SCOTT - Fluent in three languages, with a CEGEP diploma as a paralegal, Elisa Paradiso thought she would be a strong candidate for a civil service job in her field.
But despite taking part in three Quebec government job competitions, Paradiso has never even had an interview.
"I’m happy to speak three languages. I think it’s an advantage for me. But it seems as if for the government it doesn’t matter," says the 30-year-old paralegal, who has had a successful career in the private sector since graduating from O’Sullivan College in 2000.
Paradiso can’t help wondering whether the fact that she is an anglophone of Italian descent has hindered her chances of landing a civil service job.
Despite long-standing promises by the Quebec government to hire more anglophones and other minorities, anglophones remain a small proportion of civil servants.
Last week, a Statistics Canada report revealed that anglophones hold only 2.8 per cent of Quebec government jobs even though they make up 13.3 per cent of the workforce.
Francophones occupy 97.2 per cent of provincial civil service jobs while they account for 86.5 per cent of the workforce.
Quebec has been promising to rectify the imbalance for years.
Back in 1996, when Premier Lucien Bouchard reached out to the English speaking community in a speech at the Centaur Theatre, he bemoaned the "under-representation of anglophones in the public sector (as) a very real problem" and said the appointment of anglophones to government bodies should become routine.
Last week, Premier Jean Charest told the Bastarache commission, looking into Quebec’s system of judicial nominations, that "one of the criteria that was very important for us ... was that we wanted more women, more representatives of cultural communities and of anglophones, and that is reflected in the decisions that we make on nominations."
But critics say the government has done little to make good on such claims.
"They could say they have an employment equity program that includes anglophones. However, that doesn’t seem to have been producing any results," said Sylvia Martin-Laforge, director-general of the Quebec Community Groups Network.
Provincial cutbacks are one reason efforts to hire more anglos have stalled, Martin-Laforge acknowledged. For some anglophones, the need for perfect written or spoken French is another obstacle, she added.
But there is no excuse for failing to make the civil service more inclusive, Martin-Laforge charged.
"If they were serious about this they would have a quota. Otherwise, they’ll never get there," she said.
The government should have an outreach program to recruit more anglophones and offer language courses to those who wish to upgrade their French skills, as the federal government does, Martin-Laforge suggested.
Harold Tremblay, a communications adviser at the Conseil du tresor, said the reason anglophones are under-represented in the civil service is that few of them submit applications.
"What we notice is that there are very few anglophones who apply. It’s not a question of access ; on the contrary, there is a will on the part of the government to recruit these people, but it’s difficult to twist their arm," he said.
Tremblay said he had no statistics on how many anglophones apply or have been hired to back up his statement.
But he noted that 47 per cent of civil service jobs are in Quebec City. Anglophones account for only 1.4 per cent of the population in the provincial capital.
The government has reached out to anglophones, immigrants and the disabled by publicizing job openings on the Internet, through employment organizations and on college and university campuses but the message does not seem to be getting through, Tremblay added.
History is one reason anglophones have long been under-represented in the Quebec civil service, said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies.
During the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the growth of the public sector provided a means of advancement for French-speaking Quebecers in a province where anglophones occupied many high-level private-sector positions, he said. "The civil service was seen as a lever to improve the position of the French-language population," Jedwab said.
However, the stereotype of anglophones as a privileged minority no longer reflects reality, the Statistics Canada report reveals. It found an anglophone man with identical qualifications to a francophone man earns, on average, $1,900 less than his francophone counterpart, while an anglophone woman earns $700 less.
Yet the perception that anglophones are somehow better suited to the private sector lingers, Jedwab said. "That is a very antiquated view of things," he said.
"Anglophones have no aversion to working in the public sector, nor do francophones have an aversion to working in the public sector."
Jedwab said that while making the civil service more representative of Quebec’s diverse population takes time, the government could remedy the under-representation of anglophones and other minorities through appointments to advisory boards and other positions.
At Senate committee hearings in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Montreal last month, anglophones complained of exclusion and lack of access to jobs and government services.
Members of the Senate Committee on Official Languages noted that devolving powers to the Quebec government has had the perverse effect of depriving English-speaking Quebecers of bilingual services in some regions. For example, provincial employment centres do not always offer services in English, unlike federal employment centres.
The senators also commented on the dearth of anglophones in the Quebec civil service, even within the directorate responsible for English education.
Pierre Fortin, a professor of economics at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, warned that further study is needed before drawing any conclusions on why anglophones are under-represented. "Are anglophones prepared to accept jobs where they will work mainly in French ?" he asked in an email. "Do anglophones take part in civil-service competitions in numbers proportional to their demographic weight ?" he added.
While their under-representation in the provincial civil service is most striking, English-speakers also occupy fewer federal and municipal jobs than their numbers warrant, the Statistics Canada report showed.
In the Montreal area, anglophones comprise 22.1 per cent of all workers but make up only 4.9 per cent of provincial government employees, 7.2 per cent of municipal employees and 15.9 per cent of federal employees.
The report also found that while 62 per cent of anglophones feel that the presence of English is very strong in media and 42 per cent feel it is strong in stores, businesses and federal services, only 24 per cent believe that English has a strong presence in Quebec government services.
The Statistics Canada report, based on the 2006 Census, defines anglophones and francophones according to the official language they speak best. By that measure, anglo-Quebecers number 994,723 out of a total population of 7.4 million.
Paradiso said she has gotten over her disappointment at not landing a civil-service job.
"I guess I’ve been fortunate to be happy in the jobs that I’ve found in the private sector," she said.
"But everybody says, once you get into the government, you’re set for life. That’s why everybody does try."
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